Where Millennials Go Will Shape Cities, Suburbs

The Millennial population has plateaued and its appetite for loft living in urban cores may be softening amid the lure of single-family homes and walk-in schools in the suburbs.

The Millennial population has plateaued and its appetite for loft living in urban cores may be softening amid the lure of single-family homes and walk-in schools in the suburbs.

Cities have become congregations of Millennials, pushing up apartment rents, supporting hipster culture and fueling arguments over gentrification. But now some demographers and apartment developers say millennial inflow to urban centers has crested and there are new trickles of outflow to suburbs.

The dream of living in a vibrant, walkable downtown with ample supplies of coffee shops and night life still captivates young adults, but the lure of more affordable housing and elbow room is causing some young adults, especially ones with new families, to look at life in the suburbs, much like their Boomer parents did.

“You can have all the preferences you want, but you have to live somewhere and you have to have a budget,” Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow, explained to The New York Times. “Those are the cold hard truths you have to live with.”

Many Millennials came of age during the Great Recession and as colleges tuition and student debt soared. Trouble landing a prized, good-paying job, paying off student loans and finding an apartment have made for some life choices such as buying a home and starting a family more complicated.

How Millennials resolve their dilemmas could influence the shape of both urban cores and suburban areas. In 2015, Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living population in the United States.

As young adults crowded into cities, rents skyrocketed and demands arose for rent control. Development is catching up with demand, but the question is whether demand for affordable apartments will soften as Millennials age and yearn for more traditional housing. If that happens, it could put more pressure on inner city neighborhoods within a bike ride to downtown amenities.

Portland economist Joe Cortright thinks this all may be fretting without a reason. He predicts cities will continue to swell even as the Millennial population plateaus because following right behind is Generation Z, whose members are likely to follow a similar pilgrimage to urban centers.

Another interesting wrinkle is that Millennials may be much more diverse than previous US population cohorts.  They also have demonstrably different views about family structure than their parents, which could translate into a wide variance of living styles and housing accommodations.

However, statistics suggest that the migration by Millennials from cities to suburbs has begun. Fivethirtyeight.com cites US Census data indicating more young adults between the ages of 25 to 29 moved from cities to suburbs in 2014 than the other way around. The migration may not be a flood compared to earlier generations, but it appears to be unmistakable as young adults thinking about children fondly recall larger single-family homes with walk-in schools and nearby shopping malls.